Distillery: Proof and Venture / Traverse City / MGP
Type & Region: Bourbon, USA
Composition: 60% corn, 36% rye, 4% barley
Aged: 5 years
Price: $40 MSRP (750mL) but frequently marked-up to $60+
From the back of the bottle:
“As founding father of the bourbon industry, Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. left an indelible legacy. His dedication to distilling began at the close of the Civil War when he purchased O.F C. Distillery. There, he developed innovative techniques that are still in use today. Made by hand, this Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey has been aged inside century old warehouses constructed by E.H. Taylor, Jr. Barrels are evaluated and selected to create a perfect blend of distinctive character that is like no other. This bourbon is a true sipping bourbon that honors the uncompromising legacy of E.H. Taylor, Jr.”
Idle Hands 13 Barrel Bourbon comes from David Schmier’s Proof and Wood Ventures, probably best known for its DC collection that includes The Ambassador, The Senator, The Representative, The Presidential, and The Justice, all barrel proof MGP-sourced bourbons or ryes. Outside of that, there are a few other brands, including Idle Hands, which is a collaboration done with the now closed Idle Hands Whiskey Bar in New York City.
Scouring the label for more information, I found that Idle Hands Bourbon was distilled in Indiana but bottled in Traverse City, Michigan, meaning that 13 barrels in this batch came from MGP stock initially purchased by Traverse City Distilling, not directly from MGP. Even before that, I was immediately drawn to the prominent 13 on the front label. Don’t be fooled though, this means 13 barrels in the blend and not 13 years old, which I think is an easy mistake to make. This is only one of many labels to prominently show a number that doesn’t mean age, and I think it’s misleading and needs to change, but that’s for another discussion. Let’s find out what Michigan and David Schmier have to offer in this Idle Hands 13 Barrel Bourbon review.
Funny enough, “oh yes this is nice” initially comes to mind because of the immediately dark and rich caramel and vanilla followed by the rye-driven licorice and fennel, then baked apple, dried orange, roasted oak, cinnamon, and raisins. Idle Hands Bourbon has a raisin-cinnamon roll vibe with hints of roasted grain and calm alcohol. That’s a good first-impression.
With swirling, I smell a little less caramel and vanilla, and a little more licorice, fennel, and rosemary, followed by dried apples, oranges, roasted oak, cinnamon, and raisin. I keep getting toasted raisin cinnamon rolls but now with an added fennel glaze or something like that. The fragrance is strong enough to outperform its ABV and age. No it doesn’t have the same denseness or intensity of something with 55%+ ABV, but it still smells like a good MGP bourbon.
Idle Hands Bourbon starts with fairly rich caramel, roasted vanilla, orange and apple, raisin, oak, cinnamon, clove, and licorice. The flavors are quite good with a pleasant dark roasted sweetness that I often find in MGP bourbon, but with slightly more subdued licorice and fennel. And just like in the scents, there’s some raisin-ness and faint hints of youthful grains to create a distinctive raisin cinnamon roll flavor. Thankfully, the grain note doesn’t scream very young as it did in Stellum Bourbon.
“Chewing” brings out more flavorful caramel, honey, vanilla frosting, apple, dark berries, raisin, cinnamon, roasted oak, clove, licorice, fennel and just a little thyme. Dark fruits and sugar sweetness come out more, as well as show off its better than expected viscosity and overall tastiness. Idle Hands Bourbon has a nice darkness, sweetness, and fruitiness that comes-off far stronger than 47.6% ABV and 5 years. No, it’s not a hugely flavorful and complex bourbon, but I’m really liking it nonetheless.
The finish starts with gentle oak tannins, caramel, raisin, and cinnamon that last for a solid 4-5 minutes. “Chewing” leaves a slightly more oaky finish with tannins, caramel, vanilla, raisin, rosemary, and fennel. It’s not a huge finish per-se, but still has a lot of the traits I like.
Idle Hands Bourbon is yet another good and representative 5-6 year old MGP bourbon, akin to Kooper Family Single Barrel Bourbon and Smooth Ambler Old Scout 5 Year Single Barrel bourbon. Yeah, I’m an MGP fan-boy, but it so easy to be one when these MGP-sourced bourbons keep bringing the tasty roasted caramel, dark fruit, herbal rye, and wood spices. That said, this doesn’t bring as much top-to-bottom depth and enjoyment as say Smoke Wagon Uncut Unfiltered or the mind-blowing Widow Jane 12 Year Single Barrel Bourbon Total Wine Select, but it’s still something to consider if you’re looking to try something from MGP.
It’s worth noting that while the ~$50 price point itself is reasonable, it doesn’t really distinguish itself when Smooth Ambler Single Barrel Bourbons are also around $50-60, 6 years old now, and cask strength, and there are so many other great and better known options (e.g., Wild Turkey Rare Breed, New Riff Single Barrel Bourbon). This is further reinforced by my one point of evidence where no one seemed to buy it at a store where I shop. So overall, Idle Hands is an all-around well-made bourbon that may fall under the radar because of the unknown name, somewhat pedestrian numbers, not bad but not great price, and intense competition. It’s not quite a must have, but if you’re wondering whether you should get it, I say go for it if you can afford it.